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Report No. 255

C. Compulsory Voting: A Comparative Perspective

9.17. Compulsory voting is currently present in the statute books in 28 countries,425 although such a figure does not give a true picture of the level of enforcement, which is even lower. Thus, most studies estimate that around 14 countries current enforce compulsory voting provisions. These include many small countries such as Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Nauru, and one canton in Switzerland; and others such as Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Singapore, Peru, and Uruguay.426 In fact, Dr. Lisa Hill and Jonathon Louth talk about how the list of countries currently enforcing compulsory voting is reduced to six, if limited to those with a "history of well-established democratic norms".427

425. IDEA Compulsory voting, supra note 389

426. Id.

427. Dr. Lisa Hill and Jonathoun Louth, Compulsory voting Laws and Turnouts: Efficacy and Appropriateness, (2004),
<http://www.adelaide.edu.au/apsa/docs_papers/Aust%2520Pol/Hill%26Louth.pdf>, at 12

9.18. Nor does the 28 countries figure indicate the trend towards which countries globally are moving. For instance, the fact that both Italy (1993) and the Netherlands (1967) have abolished compulsory voting; and others such as Liechtenstein and Greece have moved from a strict to a not-strict or nonenforcement of compulsory voting laws respectively has lead IDEA to question:

"Is compulsory voting a dying phenomenon" in western Europe? Perhaps in a few years it will only be kept as a 'ghost' in countries' constitutions, without any intention to enforce it."428

428. IDEA, Europe, supra note 405, at 30

9.19. Most recently, Fiji abandoned compulsory voting in 2014, Chile in 2012, and Austria (the last remaining Tyrol district) abolished it in 2004. Others such as Egypt, Greece, Mexico, Paraguay, and Thailand have stopped enforcing it.429 When Netherlands abolished compulsory voting in 1967, it did so citing three reason.- first, the right to vote was a right, which every citizen could decide whether to exercise or not. Secondly, sanctions against defaulters were hard to effectively enforce in practice; and finally, tasking parties with the responsibility of attracting voters would ensure that the resultant turn out was a better reflection of voters' interest and engagement with politics.430

429. IDEA Compulsory voting, supra note 389

430. IDEA, Europe, supra note 405, at 26 and 29

9.20. Amongst the countries still enforcing compulsory voting provisions, most (excluding Australia where defaulters pay a fine) impose strict penalties. Thus, in Peru, voters must carry their stamped voting card to obtain certain goods and social services from some public offices.431

431. IDEA Compulsory voting, supra note 389

9.21. In Brazil, failure to vote results in the imposition of a fine. Failure to pay the fine however, entitles the State to impose a range of sanctions including being prohibited from applying for any public position; from receiving a salary from a public post; from sitting certain professional exams; and from obtaining a passport, identity card, certain types of loans, and teaching licenses in public educational institutions432.

432. Leticial Chelius, Brazil: Compulsory voting and renewed interest amongst external voters,
<http://www.idea.int/publications/voting_from_abroad/upload/chap5-brazil.pdf> at 129

9.22. In Belgium, failure to vote in four elections within 15 years results in the disenfranchisement for ten years. But even apart from that, nonvoters might find it difficult to get jobs in the public sector; or if they are civil servants, be disentitled to any promotion.433

433. IDEA, Europe, supra note 405, at 28; IDEA Compulsory voting, supra note 389

9.23. As discussed above, penalising non-voters by penalising their poverty (such as in Brazil for failure to pay the fine) or restricting their access to government services and benefits (such as in Belgium and Peru) are extremely harsh measures and will not work in the Indian context, with its vast poverty and unemployment.

Conversely, if the fine is too low, then it will only affect the poor and not change the behaviour of the rich, who do constitute a sizeable mass of the non-voting qualified voter population. In both cases, however, the result will be many court cases and delays in an already creaking judicial system. For all these reasons, comparative examples do not provide any justification for the imposition of compulsory voting in India.



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